Cranbrook Showdown looms

Kevin Martin won a battle of old rivals Thursday night to inch within a game of a certain playoff berth at the Capital One Canada Cup of Curling. A three-time winner of the competition, Martin and his team of John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert extended their win skein to four games, matching that of current Canadian champion Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg.

Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert scrub a John Morris shot

Martin executed a precise come-around hit on a partially hidden Glenn Howard stone in the four-foot to post a critical 10-8 victory. Howard (2-2), of Coldwater, Ont., had scored his fourth deuce of the match in the ninth end to take a one-point lead headed for home. And he seemed to have an edge there, with a rock stashed in the four-foot behind a lineup of Martin stones, all guarded out front. But Martin’s first-rock come-around tap back erased Howard’s counter and when Howard didn’t get enough roll on his last hit, Martin had a duplicate tap for three points and the win. “It went right to the last inch,” said a jovial Martin afterward. “My last one just straightened out at the end and didn’t get enough sideways roll,” moaned Howard. “But Kevin made a great shot.” Martin said Howard needed to roll another foot to make things really dicey. “I probably would have still played for the win but he probably wins,” said Martin. “If there’s a shot to win you play it. The draw for one ties it. The odds then of stealing are 27-28 per cent. “It was big in the sixth end when we steal one (for a 6-4 lead). They had us in trouble the whole end and Johnny (third Morris) called the roll perfect and we just bump them far enough to make a pocket and Glenn couldn’t score.” Martin more or less controlled the tight crowd-pleaser at the Cranbrook RecPlex until Howard’s go-ahead deuce in the ninth. Stoughton, who will play Martin in a 2 p.m. showdown of unbeaten teams this afternoon, won his fourth by shading Kevin Koe (2-2) of Calgary 10-8 on an adjacent sheet. Koe plays Howard in a critical match that could decide the third playoff berth at 9 a.m. this morning. “It’s nice to win four but it’s not enough,” said Stoughton. “Ideally, we’d like to run the table, get that last rock into the final. If you’re 4-and-2 and wind up being tied for first, or tied with four teams or something, there are no guarantees. But the fifth win probably would lock up first, second or third. We’d be happy with that.” Stoughton hit for four in the second end but couldn’t shake Koe’s team which kept battling back into the frame. A knife-shot last rock in the seventh end proved critical. Stoughton scored three for a 9-5 lead but, still, Koe scrambled back with a single. “The seventh was a big extra point to get the three,” said Stoughton. “They could have stolen one there. But it gave up control. After that we were playing a little conservative. They made some beauties in the ninth, I just ticked on the guard and they stole two to get within a point. I mean, you have to make everything out here or they’re going to get you.” Martin said his team needs the win against Stoughton and his team of Jon Mead, Reid Carruthers and Steve Gould to clinch first place and a bye to Sunday’s championship final at 1:30 p.m. “I said we wanted to be 5-and-1,” said Martin. “We have to beat Jeff to be assured of that.” Martin plays Mike McEwen of Winnipeg and Stoughton plays Howard in last-gasp matches at 7 p.m. today. In one other Thursday night encounter, McEwen whipped Steve Laycock (1-3) of Saskatoon. It gave McEwen, a pre-tourney co-favourite, his first win of the week. “I guess we’ll scramble for expenses on Friday,” said McEwen, who plays Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie at 2 p.m. Martin doubled the winless Jacobs 8-4 on Thursday morning while Stoughton defeated Laycock 9-6. Martin hit for singles in the first two ends, gave up a pair during the next two, then dropped a four-bomb on proceedings. Stoughton also fashioned a four-ender, in the third end to assume command of his game by a 5-1 measure. Howard and Koe won their afternoon starts to stay in contention for post round-robin play. Howard doubled McEwen 8-4 and Koe scored a 9-6 decision over Jacobs. “You don’t want to lose too many more,” said Howard, who was upended by Laycock on Wednesday night. “We were much better than that today,” said Howard. “They scored me at 90 per cent in the game we lost but I think that was a generous 90. I don’t think I played that well. “Two losses is no guarantee and you just have to keep putting wins under your belt.” Howard close out his tilt with McEwen by posting a three in the eighth end that fattened up a one-point edge. “The games aren’t getting any easier,” said the Ontario skip.  “Mike McEwen has been the hottest team on the planet. We got him on an off-day. It was kind of nice. They’re not as sharp as we’re used to seeing them. They’re in a bit of a funk right now. I’m sure they’ll snap out of it.” Koe stole a single in the fourth and was up 5-2 after six against the Soo squad. “We pulled it out but we didn’t play as well as we did in the first two games,” said the former N.W.T. junior skip. “But you need one of those here when you have to pull one out when you’re not at your best. “It’s hard to predict records because the teams here are so good. Anybody can beat anybody. But you don’t want to be relying on other people for help.” Semi-final matches involving the second and third finishers go Saturday. The winners become the first teams to qualify for the Tim Hortons Canadian Olympic Curling Trials at Winnipeg two years from this week.